Jarrett Mazza is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program in Plainfield, Vermont. Before completing his terminal degree, Jarrett studied writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, and completed the Novel Writing class at Sheridan College under award-winning writer, Melodie Campbell. He has received extensive training in fiction in all mediums, including screenwriting, comic book writing, poetry, academic writing, and craft. He has also taught in a Writer’s Craft classroom at his former high school, has had stories published online in the GNU Journal, Bewildering Stories, Trembling With Fear, Aphelion, and Silver Empire Publishing. He currently writes for the website Sequart that specializes in academic writings on comic books, fandom, and films. He is also working on a comic book pitch, writes over two-thousand words each day, reads one book each week, and constantly submits to publishers, contests, and other publications.
He lives outside of Toronto, Ontario.
You can follow him on Twitter @JarrettMazza
FOR GOD AND COUNTRY
“WHAT ARE YOUR ORDERS?”
I hear nothing except the words given by Sergeant. I saluted my flag every day in the Corps and I’m going to salute it again until the day I die.
“To kill, sir!”
We screamed as we stood at attention and watched Sergeant as he paced through the aisle in the transport shuttle. There was nothing to say than what was already said.
“That’s right,” Sergeant said. “To kill, to exterminate, and most of all…to win!”
He motioned to the end of the row, turned around and kept his hands behind his back.
“Because if there’s one thing that we hate in this country, it’s the feeling of fucking losing, and do we ever lose?!”
“No, sir, we don’t lose!”
“Damn right we don’t. Now grab your gear and get ready to move.”
The tactical suit worn during battle is bulky but flexible. It’s heavier in the torso and lighter around the shoulders and the legs. It’s not sleek but it will protect you against gunfire and explosions, which on a planet the one we’re headed to it’s the least of our problems. We’re on our way to the planet Camorroa, a name that sounds similar to the mob syndicate that once dominated Italy hundreds of years ago. This planet we’re heading to is in the Proxima Centauri Star System. It took us a while to get to it, but now we’re here and there are people we need to kill, specifically the black-handed people who run most of the planet. None of us know much about them, except for the fact that our country despised them.
“Camorroa is a shithole,” said the President of the United States. “Its people are filthy, disgusting animals, responsible for polluting the entire star system, and I am sending a team of soldiers right now to eradicate the problem.”
Before our President was elected, there was a war. It was a war caused by the hands of the people who didn’t want him to take office. In the late 23rd century, there was never a President so controversial, a president who unrelentingly targeted the people he disliked, people like the press, and his rivals. The protests persisted. The people yelled and screamed, but, when he took office, and the voices soon refrained from stopping, the President made presentations to his people and then to us. With every announcement came a new enemy, another barrier to cross, another planet that needed to be conquered.
“Any and all enemies of the state are to be silenced and destroyed.”
The enemies, which our President was referring to, was a system of planets that spanned the entire galaxy. It began when we, the humans, started colonizing other worlds and, because we were the first ones to develop ships capable of interstellar travel, whatever planets we discovered became ours to govern and ours to destroy, if we chose to do so. After the President made this announcement, the people stood on their feet and greeted him with a round of incredible applause.
“And the first people who will be punished for what they have done, the people of Camoroa will pay dearly for their mistakes.”
I was standing in the transport shuttle with the rest of my unit: John, Stan, David, and Maria. They were soldiers, just as I was. They were battered, beaten, and bruised from years- decades -of combat. We had seen and done so much together, and there was little regret shared between us.
A soldier doesn’t have to regret.
He can be the man he is supposed to be.
“I can’t believe we elected this man. Guy’s a bona fide psychopath.”
My father was sitting in the living room. He was slouched on the chair and my mother was sitting poised beside him. She always presented better than he did. I wasn’t the only one with them. My brother was in the same room. He was next to me and we were all watching the hologram. The President was waving to the people in front of him and rejoicing in his victory while he watched.
“Not saying things that ain’t true,” said my father, “and truth doesn’t know color or creed, it’s just that sometimes it’s hard for people to hear.”
“Most of the time it is,” my mother said later.
I said nothing.
My family was a military family. My father was a soldier and his father too. My brother and I both joined the Corps as soon as we graduated high school, and once we did, we traveled to several planets, killing and destroying anyone that our country told us to kill, and we didn’t ask questions.
It is not the duty of soldiers to ask questions.
Our ship wasn’t far from its descent. Sergeant was sitting between two rows and was the closest to the cockpit.
We hoisted our guns, pressed them against our chests, and waited.
“Get ready to deploy in there, two…”
I closed my eyes and prepared for the drop. Sergeant cleared his throat before screaming the last number.
And, a split second after he spoke, the floor opened, and we were falling.
Ken, my other brother in the infantry, was falling beside me.
This is what is known as “The Drop”. We are released from our shuttles and we descend onto any planet to which we are assigned. We use our boosters to steer and our parachutes to land, and when all is done, we retrieve our rifles, land smack in the middle of a battle, and start to shoot.
“Four hundred meters!”
I could hear Sergeant through a communicator stored in my right ear.
“Three hundred meters!”
The ground was getting closer and the battle beneath was overwhelmed with soldiers and gunfire, but not many black faces. They were there, but they weren’t moving. All that was moving was us.
“Two hundred meters!”
We were so close now.
I closed my eyes and prepared for the landing. I couldn’t to connect. My rifle felt so good under my arms and I could see the other men serving with me shooting all of the hostiles and obliterating them like they were made of wax paper. You don’t know the true force of any weapon until you see it what it does to those you despise. Truth be told, I don’t care much for the black-faces. I really don’t want to. It’s better if I don’t.
I pull my chute and float down towards the soil. The explosions have ransacked all of the planet’s livestock. Most of the surface is almost entirely black and when I come within ten feet of the ground, I pull the pin; this is designed to swallow the parachute and bring it back from where it came from. I clash with the ground, remove my rifle, point, aim, and shoot.
The black faces are all running away. They aren’t armed with many weapons, but they’re still hostile. It’s like the President says, “anyone who doesn’t salute our flag is an enemy of the state and needs to be punished”.
He was right.
The President is always right, hence why we elected him.
“Yeah!” shouted Ray.
He was another soldier in the unit.
He was clutching his rifle and shooting at the black faces.
There was a woman screaming and sheltering her child. The issue with these black creatures is the fact that there’s always so many kids. They are obsessed with growing their families and raising lots of children. I don’t know why they’re like this. On our world, we don’t raise kids if we’re fucking crazy, and all of these people are fucking crazy, and that’s why I’m here. We clear the field and march long, shoulder-to-shoulder with my brothers in arms. Some of them do beg us not to kill them. We hear their pleas, but we can’t adhere to them. That’s not what we’re here to do.
“Keep clearing them out! Keep clearing them!”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
I shot a few more but spared the rounds. They weren’t armed and there wasn’t any reason to waste bullets. They’re valuable in war and this was a fucking war.
“All right, boys,” said Sergeant.
He was standing behind us, reloading his rifles, and looking at me and Ray.
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“Thank you, sir,” said Ray.
Sergeant nodded and then looked at the field.
“Didn’t take long to clear this place out, huh?”
“No,” I replied.
I was looking ahead but could still see Ray. He wasn’t looking at me, at the bodies. They were battered and ripped apart from the gunfire. I wasn’t bothered much by what I was seeing, but the fact that Ray wasn’t watching me was one way of letting me know that he was disturbed. Ray wasn’t the kind who found himself feeling disturbed, but then again, he also wasn’t the kind that looked the way I did. Ray was black, and these beings weren’t black the same way that he was, I think he had a problem seeing them as different.
There was a time when he was called black-face too.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said The President.
We were on the shuttle and Sergeant decided to broadcast the hologram. We could all see it now.
“This is our President, boys. We give’em the attention he deserves.”
I watched the broadcast with Ray. He was still being quiet.
“Our mission on the planet Camorroa was a complete success. The enemies were destroyed and now we are free to cleanse the universe of any and all who have sought to resist us. Our country’s values need to be preserved not just in our own country, but across an entire galaxy of stars, for it was us who created this world, and us who will preserve and sanctify it no matter what the cost.”
I glared at the hologram. My helmet was still on, but I removed it and rubbed my fingers through my hair because it was oily- moistened from sweat and blood.
“And, of course, what kind of President would I be if I didn’t take the time to mention our brave men and women of our military who…”
Although the President was the only one featured, you could hear the people applauding, and they weren’t clapping for him, but for us. We were the people in which he was applauding.
“…have sacrificed so much,” he continued. “Without them, our enemies would be running across the star systems, seeking refuge, but because of our infantry, all of them were terminated and now the planet of Camorroa knows what it feels like to be free.”
Another round of applause followed.
Free was not a word that I expected him to use.
I didn’t think we had freed anyone. I had forgotten that this is what the mission was. It was here to liberate them but all we really did was kill them. We killed a lot of them.
“Man, I didn’t think he would speak about so soon,” I said to Ray.
He was still being quiet in his seat.
“I’m not surprised. We’re the top dogs in the stars. We uphold the law.”
“I thought we were soldiers,” I said.
Ray made eye contact, finally.
“Not much of a difference, not like it used to be. Things are very different now.”
The President raised his hands and silenced the crowd.
“And now that one threat is neutralized, it’s time for us to move onto the next, and it is a far greater one I can assure you.”
I blinked. Our shuttle was approaching the bay of our ship. It was a Dreadnought class cruiser called The Gladius. As we began to settle, I was beginning to think more about the President’s words. I didn’t know there was a greater threat than this. I thought whatever threat we were facing was over. We had killed all the black-faces. We opened fire and didn’t hesitate because they were our enemies, one of the worst we’ve ever faced according to our leader, and they were ordered to be exterminated.
“Thousands upon thousands of lightyears away,” The President said.
Our shuttle was starting to land in the docking bay and I listened to the rest of his speech.
“A new enemy is rising. The People of the nation of Pramina worship a God that they claim to be the creator of the universe, our universe. As we all know, this is not the truth. The creator of the universe is the One True God, the same one that our astronauts discovered hundreds of years ago, and because of their discovery, any other religions throughout the stars were forbidden and outlawed.”
The shuttle landed and the docking doors opened. I could hear them hissing before I saw the bay. There were other soldiers, marching in tight lines, and hooting as they stomped along. I thought we would escape the broadcast but then I saw it continuing on several screens in the bay of the ship. Our President was talking about the people of Pramina who, unlike the people of Comorroa, I didn’t know much about.
“Their religion makes them terrorists and our country kills terrorists. We have for thousands of years.”
I removed my helmet and walked next to Ray.
“Is he still going?”
Ray pulled the straps of his helmet and walked along, smiling.
“Of course. There’s so much more to stay.”
I was heading through the bay, across to several capsules, each hovering above automated platforms that kept them four inches for their surface. These were the coffins from those that perished on the battlefield. Despite the mission being a success, we still lost a few. I didn’t know after the deploy that the guy next to me was Tom. I remember him being asleep before we made the drop. He was sleeping now too, except he wasn’t going to wake, and neither would the dozens of others who were being escorted along.
“I don’t think there is,” I said to Ray. “I think we’ve said enough already.”
Two days later we were all called back to the briefing room. Our ship began to head towards the Pramina System the second our President gave the order. It didn’t take long. All he wanted us to do was go there and kill the planet’s people, but based on the intel we were being provided, I knew, and I think Ray did as well, that this was not going to be like the one that came before.
“Pramina might be a primitive planet but they’re the kind of people that don’t go down without a fight.”
Sergeant was standing at the front of the briefing room, looking at all of us as we sat straight, with our hands folded on the tabletop, and gazing straight ahead.
“The people there are armed and ready to fight. This is a video taken of one of the militia leaders.”
I cracked my knuckles into my palm and watched the hologram of an alien with brown flesh roaring furiously and scratching at the camera.
“If the President wants to invade, then come and invade! We’re ready! We’ve got bombs, we’ve got men, and we have never been readier to defend our homeland! We are not afraid of the so-called most powerful nation in the galaxy! We will defend ourselves at all costs! We will die before we give up our planet!”
Sergeant stopped the presentation and kept it paused when the militia leader’s face was frozen into a screaming mien, highlighted with fury.
“This is what waits for us in the Pramina system.”
“Not pretty,” said Ray.
Sergeant overhead him and addressed him from the front of the briefing.
“Not it isn’t, Lieutenant. It sure as hell isn’t.”
He glanced at me and then I looked at Sergeant who, after speaking to Ray, slipped his cigar back into his mouth and started to chew.
“We will be gearing up by eight hundred tomorrow, which leaves plenty of time left for us before we deploy.”
“Will it be a combat drop like Camorroa, sir?”
Sergeant removed his cigar and smirked.
“And how many weapons are on scene?” I asked. “From what that video showed, it looks like they’re going to be packin’ lotta of heat.”
“A hell of a lot,” said Sergeant.
He turned his attention to the hologram and maximized several images that showed the heavy artillery on the ground. I had seen most of these machines before: a weapons-carrier, a few plasma cannons, and concentrated synthetic blasters that could plug a big hole in our shuttle, but nothing too big, nothing we couldn’t handle.
“Militia is set to be equipped with the following, but, I’m guessin’ that the first second they catch us in the sky, they’ll open up and, when they do, our flyers will target their artillery before you guys land on the ground.”
My fingers were itchy. They usually were whenever I was about to get my hands dirty. I was aching to get into battle despite the fact that I had only just returned. I wanted more, but I also had a question on my mind that needed to be answered.
“Any innocents expected on the field, sir?”
The room was quiet after I asked this and a few of the soldiers in my unit stopped and turned to look at me.
“What was that, soldier?”
I adjusted the way I was sitting by coming forward and placing my hands on the arm rest of my chair.
“Innocents,” I said again. “Will there be any on the field?”
“What do you mean by that, soldier?”
Sergeant rammed his cigar back into his mouth and glared.
“Soldier,” he said, “you know as well as I do that anyone who serves with the enemy is the enemy.”
“Roger that, sir,” was my first response.
I struggled to explain why but knew that I had. I felt that it was my job to explain why I was giving my superior officer a question that I knew he didn’t have the strength to answer.
“I just want to know…what we’re really dropping into.”
“You droppin’ into exactly what you think y’are dropping into, son. It’s gonna be a god damn hellhole, but it’s us who are gonna clean it up.”
“Aye, sir,” said one of the marines.
Sergeant continued with the briefing, but after he gave me an answer, I didn’t really care to go on. The answers were so clear to me now. I slept in my bunk, above Ray, who was on the bed below. I had shared a room with him during almost every mission. He didn’t have any rituals before a raid. Usually, he slept in his bed and snored until morning.
“Hey,” he whispered.
I was laying on my back, staring up at the ceiling, thinking.
I turned, and my mattress squeaked.
Ray snickered and chuckled.
“Figured you would be. Can’t sleep either, huh?”
“Nah,” I said.
My hands were tucked under my head. The sheets were off my waist, so all that was there were sweat pants and a lanky muscle shirt.
“You thinking about tomorrow, aren’t you?”
I shook my head.
I grunted and adjusted the way I was laying down.
“I mean,” I said, “no more than usual.”
“So…why are you still awake then?”
“I don’t know,” I said, breathing through my nostrils. “Just…this one…” I struggled to find the words because it wasn’t so simple. The words weren’t there and I was distracted, because I was seeing too much now. There were screaming faces, so many, and all of them were screaming at me.
“It just feels different.”
“Different in what way?”
“I don’t know, like I’m nervous or somethin’.”
“Hahaha,” Ray laughed. “You never get fucking nervous, brother.”
“I know, but today I am.”
I turned and looked past the side of the mattress, down at him where he was sleeping.
“Nothing more than I was used to. I mean, you know, as well as I do, about what we saw, what we’ve done, how many people we’ve…taken out of the picture.”
“I feel you,” said Ray.
“But on Camorroa, it just seemed, I don’t know…”
“Unfair,” Ray said. “Really Un-fucking-fair.”
I gasped, thinking about what Ray had said.
I don’t remember a time before this. I don’t remember a time of questions. I remember a time of saluting, of hooting, and storming ships, going from star system to star system and eradicating people that I was told were our greatest enemies. It’s amazing how much you don’t see. I thought this country was the greatest one in the galaxy, but, in order for me, for us, to keep it that way, I was told, by my father, and grand-father, that it’s to fight against everyone who tries to bring it- us -down.
‘We don’t kill because we want to,’ my Dad said, ‘we kill because we need to.’
I knew why my father said what he did. Before I enlisted, I was informed of everything that our country has conquered throughout the years. I was shown snippets of how we rose to power, how we built our spaceships and bombs, and how the fact that we were able to master light speed travel gave us superiority over all other species. It also talked about the assembly of the new Confederation agreement, a document that stated that, so long as other planets submit to our way of life, then they will be given protection and sanctity for their cooperation. All they have to do is lower their defenses and fall in line like the rest of us. My father, and grand-father fought for this ideology. In their mind, other planets and star systems were lucky to be like us. We were the best.
“Do you think there will be any children when we drop?” I asked Ray.
Then he was the one that paused before answering.
“Are they ever not?”
I breathed, closed my eyes, and let the reality of what I was about to do sink in to my mind.
I rolled and fell slowly to sleep.
Eight hours and I was awake. I was lucky to get as much rest as I did. I was awakened by the ringing of a bell, and after I grabbed some chow, I marched into the armory, to where Sergeant was waiting.
“All right, ladies, ass holes and elbows. Get geared up and ready to rock.”
I grabbed my battle-gear and weapons. I smacked each onto my body, stepped back, and joined the other ranks. We loaded into the shuttle, just as he we did, detached from our cruiser, and zipped off into the Pramina System.
Ray was again sitting beside me. His eyes closed and I could see, from his breathing that he wasn’t asleep. He was preparing himself for what was about to follow. He was waiting for the drop but not from the ship.
“Helmets on!” shouted Sergeant.
We placed on our helmets and waited. The floor opened, and we were released. Other soldiers howled on their way down. Most didn’t launch their parachutes until the last second. Yet, after we dropped, and our chutes were sucked back in our packs, there wasn’t anyone on the ground like they were in Camorroa. On the contrary, the field was deserted; the plains were empty and everything looked as if the battle never happened at all.
“Keep your eyes open, boys. Might seem quiet now, but I assure you it ain’t.”
We marched with our weapons at the ready. Surrounding us was nothing but mountains and, at any moment, something could pop out that was as hostile as the dozens of other enemies that I had fought before. Ray was near. He was clutching his rifle tightly like I was. We eased along, pushing aside the various pushes and weeds. The Pramina System was a green place. It reminded me of Ireland or Northern Canada, but, as far as I knew, whatever battle we were here for, it seemed over and done with. And an ambush, though still possible, was unlikely. We had too many drones in the air that were doing scans of the grounds. If something was hiding, we would have been told that it was, and so far, we received nothing.
We trekked and then stopped when Sergeant raised his fist to initiate the hold.
“You see anything?” I whispered to Ray.
He shook his head.
My rifle was snug, and I was staring down the barrel and waiting for what Sergeant saw but didn’t know how he could see anything that we couldn’t.
“Got something,” said the voice on the radio.
It was from a surveillance drone. I watched as Sergeant pressed his finger against his ear and spoke.
“What?” he said. “Where?”
“Three clics ahead.”
“You heard’em. Stay sharp, boys.”
He inched forward, towards two boulders that were leaning into each other almost six meters from where he was standing. Then, from behind the stones, two unarmed children stepped out to reveal themselves.
We all drew our weapons and gazed.
“Stop!” shouted Sergeant.
The children did as they were told. They stopped and raised their hands above their heads.
Another soldier stomped in, keeping his gun on the Pramina children, and padding them down one by one.
The soldier continued to move his hands before he stopped and turned.
Sergeant lowered his weapon and moved to the children. Ray and I were examining them from farther away. I was cautious. It could all be a trap. It wasn’t the first occasion where children opened fire. Some planets mobilize their youngest because they’re the best at taking orders. They don’t ask questions, and, although that’s what I thought was about to happen here, when Sergeant kneeled, I anticipated that there was something else going on I couldn’t see. I don’t think Sergeant could see it either. I was ready in case he didn’t.
“Where’s your army?”
Sergeant was addressing them in their own language. After he spoke, neither child answered. Then I saw something that I missed because I was too focused on defending my unit should these kids unload. I didn’t see what I should have. The kids were shaking, trembling, actually. They were quivering like they were cold, but Pramina is one of the warmest planets. They weren’t shivering because of the temperature.
“Where’s your army?”
The children stayed quiet and then one of them raised their hand and pointed to the landscape behind them. I looked past Sergeant, to see what was there. Beyond the boulders, almost fifty-five yards from where we were standing, was the Pramina military, their soldiers; the very men we were here to fight.
“Holy shit,” said Ray.
I wanted to say exactly that.
They were all dead.
“Looks like we don’t have to fight, not anymore.”
Sergeant, and the rest of the platoon, were all on the other side of the boulders, looking down at the corpses. We were here to fight an army and kill them because that’s what our orders were, but from what I could see, someone had managed to get to them before we did.
“How the hell did this happen?”
Sergeant was holding the straps of his vest as he answered.
“Someone must’ve ordered an air strike.”
“Why?” I said. “We were told to attack from the ground. Why did someone ask us to do that if there was going to be an air strike in?”
“Wait…” said Ray, “what if we didn’t deploy on time? I mean, what if we were fighting on the ground? Air strikes only happen if there aren’t allies involved, and we just dropped outta the God damn sky. What if we were in the way, man? Do you think he sent us here to slaughter or to die in case the slaughter went haywire?”
All of Ray’s questions were the same as mine were.
What the fuck?
“Wouldn’t go South. Missions don’t go South, and we never fail.”
Sergeant’s hands slipped off his straps and he turned to look at each one of us.
“Mission accomplished, then. Good work.”
“Yeah,” said Ray. “Guess we don’t have to get our hands dirty.”
“Actually,” Sergeant replied.
He stepped in and, at first, I thought he was looking at me, and then I realized he wasn’t.
“There’s still some enemies on the ground.”
The children were cowering behind the boulders while Sergeant stayed kneeled beside the kids, who we will all knew didn’t speak our language. As he stayed, he grinned and showed the sign of real emotion I had seen during the mission.
He was smiling, actually smiling.
“You’re not serious, are ya’ boss?”
Ray’s response could already be interpreted as disrespectful, but it was the same as mine was, which, in my opinion, meant that it was the same as the rest of the unit’s too.
“What?” he asked.
Ray’s lip quivered as he tried to answer. I could see that he didn’t have the guts. Any frightened soldier knows the traits of other frightened soldiers.
“He said,” I interrupted. “You’re not serious, are you, sir?”
Sergeant stepped up and brought his face chin to chin with me. I could feel the whole in the unit watching us, waiting for one of us to speak but none of us did, and so I watched him closely as he gawked.
“I’m dead serious.”
Sergeant removed his Aviators, which I forgot he was wearing.
“Unless, of course,” he said. “You want to be disobey a direct order? Is that what you want to do, soldier? Do you want to disobey a direct order?”
The unit was quiet and then Ray spoke.
“No, sir ”
“No, sir,” said another soldier.
“All right then.”
Sergeant secured his sunglasses back onto his face and stepped up, wielding his weapon, and glaring at the children. I didn’t look as he fired, and I don’t think Ray, or anyone else, did either. I closed my eyes and felt the fire from the guns warming the back of my neck. It was hot and searing, like my skin was about to boil and melt.
My country is funny.
We salute the flag, sing the anthem, honor those who have died, and praise those that have sacrificed, and we do all of these things because it’s what we think we’re supposed to do, because it’s what we’ve always done. I served my country because it’s the greatest country in the galaxy. I followed orders and do my part because that’s what a soldier does, but, in the end, no matter how good the soldier, and no matter how good country, the freedom you protect doesn’t belong to you, not always, because the flag you salute, it’s almost always behind a man- a leader -and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the man is never right, but the boy almost always is.